Tokyo Olympic Medalists Katie Zaferes and Kevin McDowell Headline 2021 Elite Triathletes of the Year, Presented by Wahoo Fitness
by USA Triathlon
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Triathlon today announced its 2021 Elite, Under-23, Rookie and Junior Triathletes of the Year, presented by Wahoo Fitness, recognizing the top elite performers in draft-legal, non-drafting and off-road triathlon competition. Selections were determined by the USA Triathlon Athlete Advisory Council.
Katie Zaferes (Cary, N.C.) was named the Women’s Olympic/World Triathlon Triathlete of the Year for the fourth time, and Kevin McDowell (Colorado Springs, Colo.) earned his first-ever Men’s Olympic/World Triathlon Triathlete of the Year honors.
Zaferes, 32, won bronze at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, becoming the third U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal, joining Gwen Jorgensen (gold, 2016 Rio) and Susan Williams (bronze, 2004 Athens). Zaferes then led off Team USA as the first leg in the Olympic debut of the Mixed Relay event, helping the team earn silver, and her second Olympic medal in Tokyo.
Zaferes capped her season on the draft-legal World Triathlon Championship Series circuit by placing fourth at the World Triathlon Championship Finals. She also finished third overall in the Super League Triathlon Championship Series.
“I am very honored to receive this award considering how many of the USA women had great achievements last year,” Zaferes said. “It’s extra special for me because this year was so challenging. I’m proud of being able to regroup and refocus with the assistance of the team of people that surrounds me in order to achieve one of my biggest goals, which was to win a medal at the Olympics.”
McDowell, 29, made his Olympic debut in Tokyo and showed his Mixed Relay prowess as Team USA’s second leg in the race that features four athletes (two male, two female) who each complete a super-sprint triathlon in the order of female-male-female-male. He recorded the fastest split of the U.S. team that earned the silver medal. In the men’s individual race, McDowell placed sixth, the highest-ever finish for a U.S. male triathlete at the Olympic Games.
“It’s a huge honor to receive this award after so many great performances on the U.S. men’s side, which has been really exciting. This wouldn’t have been possible without the entire team behind me, my family, coach Nate Wilson, physio/medical, friends, community, and USA Triathlon,” McDowell said. “It truly takes a village to do what we do and perform at the highest level. I’m thankful for the one I’ve got.”
Earning Women’s Elite Non-Drafting Triathlete of the Year was Taylor Knibb (Boulder, Colo.) who broke out on the long-distance, non-drafting stage in 2021. Knibb, 24, was named MVP of the inaugural Collins Cup in Samorin, Slovakia, after earning the overall win. Knibb then went on to finish third at IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in St. George, Utah, in only her second 70.3 event. She finished second at IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder in her debut at the distance.
The string of non-drafting success came after she raced as the youngest-ever U.S. woman triathlete at the Olympics, joining Zaferes, McDowell and Morgan Pearson on the silver medal winning Mixed Relay team. She also finished second in the World Triathlon Championship Series standings, earning draft-legal wins at Yokohama and Edmonton.
“I’m extremely honored, grateful and surprised to win the Women’s Elite Non-Drafting award for 2021. Thank you to everyone who helped make the 2021 season I had possible,” Knibb said.
Sam Long (Boulder, Colo.) was named the Men’s Elite Non-Drafting Triathlete of the Year, his 2021 season highlighted by a second-place finish at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships. Long, 26, won IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder in course-record time (3:37:35) and also earned another course-record win at IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene (8:07:40). He also placed third at IRONMAN 70.3 Texas and second at IRONMAN 70.3 St. George. A U.S. team member at the Collins Cup, Long earned the seventh fastest time overall on the 2k swim, 80k bike, 18k run course.
A member of the U.S. Elite Triathlon National Team, Seth Rider (Germantown, Tenn.) earned the Men’s Elite Off-Road Triathlete of the Year title. Rider, 25, placed fourth at the XTERRA World Championships in Hawaii, leading the U.S. men and ahead of Josiah Middaugh, a nine-time Elite Off-Road Triathlete of the Year winner.
Suzie Snyder (Boulder, Colo.) earned top honors for Women’s Elite Off-Road Triathlete of the Year. Snyder, 39, placed sixth at the XTERRA World Championships, and picked up wins at XTERRA Beaver Creek and XTERRA Oak Mountain. Snyder also took fifth at the XTERRA Pan American Championship in Ogden, Utah.
Maddie Lavin (Vermillion, S.D.) and John Reed (Virginia Beach, Va.) were named Women’s and Men’s Rookie of the Year, respectively.
A running and swimming standout at the University of South Dakota, Lavin, 21, is a newcomer to triathlon who finished fifth for the Coyotes at the Women’s Collegiate Triathlon National Championships. Lavin made her elite triathlon debut at the Americas Triathlon Cup Long Beach, placing 10th overall and second in the U.S. U23 National Championships. Lavin was selected as one of four U.S. athletes to represent Team USA at the Junior Pan American Games, and she led the U.S. women, placing fifth.
“I am very honored to be receiving this award. If you told me a year ago this is where I would be in the sport I probably would've laughed,” Lavin said. “It has been a rollercoaster of learning to get here, but having so many people in my corner to help makes it all worthwhile. I am beyond grateful for my coaches, family and friends who have helped me take advantage of the opportunities given to me this past year.”
Reed, 20, started his 2021 season with a third-place finish at the Clermont Draft-Legal Challenge U25 Elite Development Race (EDR). EDRs, which are now National Triathlon Development Races and a part of the National Triathlon Development Race Series, offer up-and-coming athletes like Reed a draft-legal pathway to earning a USA Triathlon Elite license. Reed made his elite debut at the Americas Triathlon Cup Long Beach and placed ninth in the U23 Championships at the Americas Triathlon Championships St. George.
Earning Under-23 Triathlete of the Year honors were Chase McQueen (Columbus, Ind.) and Grace Walther (Indianapolis, Ind.).
A newcomer on the World Triathlon Championship Series stage, McQueen, 23, broke out in 2021 at the World Triathlon Championship Series Montreal where he joined triathlon veterans Taylor Spivey, Kirsten Kasper and Rider to anchor the winning Mixed Relay team. He made his individual World Triathlon Championship Series debut in Leeds, England, where he placed 24th. McQueen led the U.S. men with a seventh-place finish in the U23 Men’s Championship at the World Triathlon Championship Finals Edmonton.
Following her collegiate track and field and cross-country career at Indiana University, Walther, 23, transitioned to triathlon through the USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program. In just her second-ever elite triathlon, Walther earned the U.S. U23 National Championship title at the Americas Triathlon Cup Long Beach, placing seventh overall among elite women. She placed 29th at the U23 Championship at the World Triathlon Championship Finals Edmonton.
Naomi Ruff (West Chicago, Ill.) and Drew Shellenberger (Indianapolis, Ind.) were named Women’s and Men’s Junior Triathlete of the Year, respectively.
Ruff, 18, won the women’s Junior Elite national championship at the Zone3 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Nationals. She also took the wins at the Flatland Cup Triathlon, the Pleasant Prairie Youth and Junior Elite Cup and the East Coast Triathlon Festival. Ruff capped her season by placing fourth among Junior Women at the Americas Triathlon Championships St. George.
Shellenberger, 20, won the men’s Junior Elite national championship at the Zone3 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Nationals. A member of USA Triathlon’s elite development squad, Project Podium, Shellenberger was selected as one of four U.S. athletes to represent Team USA at the Junior Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia. Shellenberger capped his 2021 season by earning his first career elite podium, placing second at the Americas Triathlon Cup Santiago.
The 2021 Elite Paratriathletes of the Year honorees will be announced tomorrow.
The 2021 USA Triathlon Elite, U23 and Junior Triathlete of the Year selections are as follows:
Women’s Olympic/World Triathlon Triathlete of the Year: Katie Zaferes (Cary, N.C.)
Men’s Olympic/World Triathlon Triathlete of the Year: Kevin McDowell (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Women’s Elite Non-Drafting Triathlete of the Year: Taylor Knibb (Boulder, Colo.)
Men’s Elite Non-Drafting Triathlete of the Year: Sam Long (Boulder, Colo.)
Women’s Elite Off-Road Triathlete of the Year: Suzie Snyder (Boulder, Colo.)
Men’s Elite Off-Road Triathlete of the Year: Seth Rider (Germantown, Tenn.)
Women’s Rookie of the Year: Maddie Lavin (Vermillion, S.D.)
Men’s Rookie of the Year: John Reed (Virginia Beach. Va.)
Women’s U23 Triathlete of the Year: Grace Walther (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Men’s U23 Triathlete of the Year: Chase McQueen (Columbus, Ind.)
Women’s Junior Triathlete of the Year: Naomi Ruff (West Chicago, Ill.)
Men’s Junior Triathlete of the Year: Drew Shellenberger (Indianapolis, Ind.)